New research at the University of Glasgow has suggested that life expectancy is genetically related – and can be determined early on.
The research on Zebra Finches was published in the January issue in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
It showed that the lifespan of the finches can be determined from early in life using the length of specialized pieces of DNA called telomeres, which occur at the ends of the chromosomes that contain our genetic code.
Telomeres deter the degradation of genes near the ends of chromosomes by allowing chromosome ends to shorten, which necessarily occurs during chromosome replication. Over time, due to each cell division, the telomere ends do become shorter.
Their deterioration has been shown to cause cells to malfunction – hence the effect on life expectancy.
Measuring the telomores, they determined that the best prediction of lifespan was made at 25 days old. It is the first study to do this throughout the lifespan of an animal.
Dr Britt Heidinger from the University of Glasgow said:
“While there was a lot of variation amongst individuals in telomere length, those birds that lived longest had the longest telomeres at every measurement point.”
This impact of telomeres applies to all life but, as the BBC presenter in the below video jokes, Zebra Finches don’t eat pies and crisps – the researchers next step will be to look at environmental factors alongside early life experience and inheritance.
Picture by acme